Join me, Murray Rudd, in Kenya for an incredible luxury wildlife and landscape photo safari!
The Masai Mara is globally renowned for its abundance and diversity of wildlife, especially its big cats. Lake Naivasha, a wetland of international significance in the Rift Valley, is one of the best locations anywhere for action-oriented eagle photography.
There are relatively few tourists in Kenya in May, the plains are green, and the weather is somewhat unstable, making for wonderful big skies and epic African sunrises and sunsets.
Over 6 full-days and 2 half-days of photography, we will be able to shoot a great variety of wildlife, birds, and landscapes.
Throughout the safari we stay at high-end luxury camps located near the heart of the photography action.
Above: 'Scarface' is an old and battle-scarred resident male lion of the Masai Mara. The Mara is the place to be for big cat photography, with a very healthy lion population, and resident populations of cheetahs and leopards.
This photo safari is best-suited for amateur photographers who want to learn how to effectively capture classic African wildlife, bird, and landscape images, and serious amateur to semi-pro photographers who want to build their wildlife, bird, and landscape portfolios.
This is a photography-oriented safari. My scheduling and logistic decisions all revolve around maximizing possibilities for tour participants to capture the best possible shots during a relatively quick visit (to a place where some photographers spend months or years).
My goal is to give everyone on the tour the chance to take home images that can be hung with pride on your own home or office wall, or on the walls of your fine art buyers.
We will, without doubt, capture stunning African wildlife and landscape shots during this safari!
Physically, this is an easy trip with easy walking.
Below: this very young elephant was being held back by mom to maintain sufficient personal space between the young one and our Land Cruiser.
Arrive Nairobi, overnight at the Airport Hilton.
Day 2 (Sunday 14 May 2023)
Meet at breakfast at the Hilton for introductions; flight from Nairobi to the Masai Mara airstrip; enter the park and have our first game drive on the way to Ashnil Mara Camp; after check-in, we head out for a late-afternoon game drive.
Day 3 (Monday 15 May 2023)
Morning and afternoon game drives; evening photo review session; overnight at Ashnil Mara Camp.
Day 4 (Tuesday 16 May 2023)
Long morning game drive to the hippo and crocodile pool near the Tanzania border; afternoon game drive; evening photo review session; overnight at Ashnil Mara Camp.
Day 5 (Wednesday 17 May 2023)
Morning and afternoon game drives; evening photo review session; overnight at Ashnil Mara Camp.
Day 6 (Thursday 18 May 2023)
Morning and afternoon game drives; evening photo review session; overnight at Ashnil Mara Camp. Anyone wanting to go on the optional sunrise balloon ride will depart from Ashnil very early in the morning and will meet up with the full group after you have breakfast where the balloon lands.
Day 7 (Friday 19 May 2023)
Morning game drive and breakfast at Ashnil Mara; check-out and final game drive on the exit from the National Reserve; 3-hr drive to Lake Naivasha; afternoon boat tour and hippo/fish eagle shoot; evening photo review session; overnight at Naivasha Sopa Lodge.
Day 8 (Saturday 20 May 2023)
Morning boat tour for eagles and other birds; afternoon boat tour to Crescent Island, where we can walk and get close to giraffes, zebras, and waterbuck, and late-afternoon fish eagle shoot; evening photo review session; overnight at Naivasha Sopa Lodge.
Day 9 (Sunday 21 May 2023)
Morning boat tour, drive to Nairobi after lunch, farewell dinner, and drop off at airport for late-evening departures from Nairobi.
Ashnil Mara Camp is a luxury camp located at the very heart of the Masai Mara, along the Mara River. Unlike some lodges, where there is a lengthy drive to get to the areas where wildlife is most abundant, we can literally be at prime shooting sites within 5 minutes. This is particularly valuable for dawn shoots when giraffes and other animals are silhouetted against the sunrise (below).
Naivasha Sopa Lodge is a fine luxury lodge on the shores of Lake Naivasha. There are resident giraffes, waterbuck, monkeys, and hippos on site (in the evening, when hippos come ashore to feed, we actually need hotel staff to walk us out to our cabins in case we encounter a hippo on the walk!)
Vegetarian and vegan food options are available at both camps.
This safari is limited to eight photographers (plus myself). We will be travelling in 8-passenger Toyota Land Cruisers that have pop-off tops specifically designed for safaris. We will have a maximum of three photographers per truck (or boat) to ensure we all have good shooting angles.
This trip requires a minimum of three photographers to run.
Above: a giraffe is silhouetted in dawn light (this was shot about 5-minutes from Ashnil Mara camp - each morning we are out in our Land Cruisers at 6 a.m. and we will always watch on the drive out of camp to see if we can catch animals silhouetted against the sunrise light).
Below: another early morning shot of a black kite watching the plains during an epic Mara sunrise.
Transfer from Nairobi airport to Airport Hilton (if arriving on the evening of May 13)
Hotel accommodation on Day 1 (Airport Hilton standard room)
All meals starting with breakfast on Day 2 and ending with farewell dinner on Day 9
Four motor boat charters for photography on the water at Lake Naivasha (maximum of 3 photographers per boat)
Flight from Nairobi to the Masai Mara
Return ground transportation from Masai Mara to Naivasha and Nairobi in overland Land Cruisers each with a maximum of 3 photographers
National park entry fees
International airfare to get to Nairobi
Tips for boat and Land Cruiser drivers, hotel staff (allow about $300 in total)
Personal gifts and spending
Optional sunrise balloon tour (USD $500)
Optional upgrade to a private Land Cruiser (price tbd)
Below: for infrared photographers, the Masai Mara offers twisted trees, sweeping landscapes, and dramatic skies. This image gives just a hint of what is possible in the Mara when shooting 'in another light.'
You will receive a recommended kit list from me prior to departure. In brief, you should bring:
– one to three camera bodies –
– if you shoot infrared, an IR converted camera (not just IR filters) –
– a bean bag or bean bag with integrated tripod head for the Land Cruiser (for shots in low light or with big telephotos) –
– wide-angle, mid-range, and telephoto lenses –
– a laptop computer, charging and storage devices –
– casual clothing (including a sweater, light jacket, and rain jacket) –
Above: zebras charge around the East African grasslands in the Masai Mara.
Below: African fish eagle action will be our major objective at Lake Naivasha.
Below: a waterbuck along the shore of Crescent Island, Lake Naivasha.
Bring a camera that you are comfortable with and that is reliable. It is wise to bring a camera with which you can shoot raw images at relatively high resolution, as this will provide maximum flexibility for your future processing options. In Kenya it is useful to have a camera that can fire quick bursts, to 10 frames per second or faster - this is particularly useful for wildlife hunting action, should we be lucky enough to encounter a hunt in progress, and for our fish eagle sessions at Lake Naivasha.
For the fish eagle action, it is best to shoot at 300-500-mm. However, it is essential that you are able to shoot hand-held from a boat, so for some people that may preclude the use of a heavy telephoto. In the Masai Mara, long telephotos are useful for wildlife. Once you register, I am happy to discuss kit specifics and help you decide on which lenses to bring and whether it may also make sense for you to rent a lens for the tour. Just fyi, for this tour I will likely bring a 300-mm f/2.8 and a 1.4X extender, giving me 420-mm reach; I occasionally bring a heavy 200-400-mm zoom that extends to 560-mm (and reaches almost 800-mm with a stacked external extender).
If you have a high-resolution digital or medium format camera, those can be great for the classic African landscapes.
If you want to shoot in IR, bring a converted IR body with which you can shoot using Live View. Shooting with IR lens filters requires a tripod and is tedious. There's no practical way that filters will work when shooting from a boat or vehicle.
That's a potentially long list and, like any wildlife photo safari, it is not possible to guarantee sightings of some of the most desirable species. Elephants, giraffes, African buffalo, zebra, a variety of ungulates, baboons, hyenas, and a variety of small mammals are common. Hippos and crocodiles can be seen from Ashnil Mara's lounge, as well as in other river viewpoints. There is a small population of black rhinos in the Mara and I have seen lone rhinos wandering the grasslands. Lions are quite abundant and not at all shy, sometimes sprawling out on the road for a nap. Jackals, leopards, and cheetah are less abundant but I have seen at least two of each in every one of my visits to the Mara. There are African wild dogs ('painted wolves') in the Mara but they are rare and I have yet to see them (if this is a main objective, the odds of seeing them are higher on my Samburu trip). There is also a diversity of bird life in the Masai Mara, including ostriches, some 40+ raptor species, and a selection of small colorful forest birds.
At Lake Naivasha, we will see hippos, giraffes, waterbuck, and various ungulates, as well as resident monkeys at Naivasha Sopa Lodge. On the bird front, African fish eagles - which are very similar in size and coloring to bald eagles - nest around the fringes of Lake Naivasha and are the main attraction for our stay. There are many other birds of interest to photographers and we will also have a chance to photograph various species of kingfishers, storks, cranes, egrets, herons, and other shore birds, during our small-boat forays around the wetlands fringing the lake.
Above - a pair of pied kingfishers along the shore of Lake Naivasha
I have a local tour company that I use for my Kenya trips. The drivers for our Land Cruisers are experienced guides. Safety on the roads and in the bush is their number one concern and ensuring that we get the shots we want is a close second. The drivers have worked with pro photographers, are often photographers themselves, and are both patient and understand how lighting and backgrounds affect our shooting. They also have great knowledge about the birds and animals of the Mara.
A non-refundable deposit of USD $500 is due when you register to reserve your spot. Full payment for the safari is due 4-months prior to the departure date.
Do I need to bring cash?
You should bring some US dollars to cover local needs, including tips for our drivers and boat guides. All workshop expenses are paid for in advance through your tour fee, so there are no major local expenses. The resorts accept credit cards for drinks and souvenirs. You are better bringing USD $ than relying on a Kenyan ATM for shilling withdrawals.
Tickets from major international centers to Nairobi can be amazingly economical in May and November. From major US hubs, ticket prices over the pre-Covid have typically been around USD $850 at this time of year. From Europe, flight costs are as low as 500 euros (USD $575). Personally I like to break the flight from North America into two stages, with an overnight in Amsterdam on the way to and from Nairobi.
As you may be aware, there have been two terrorist attacks in Nairobi over the past years. One occurred at a luxury shopping mall and one at a high-end hotel complex in the city. I have designed our itinerary to minimize the odds of problems. Our itinerary and choice of lodges minimizes the likelihood that we may be in areas targeted by terrorists.
Wildlife encounters and traffic/boat accidents can be a risk. To minimize the chance of dangerous animal encounters, the lodges and transportation companies operate under strict rules within the parks. All compounds are surrounded by electric fences on the perimeters and we are not allowed to get out of vehicles in areas where there are large predators. We use very experienced Land Cruiser and boat operators to minimize risks of accidents. However, accidents can happen so you will be required to sign a waiver prior to the tour and to have travel insurance in place.
You need to make your own judgement about how much risk you are willing to take while traveling: you should check with your home government for specific advice about Kenya. Canadians and Americans can now register with their embassies automatically when filling out the Kenyan e-Visa application.
Above: a leopard enjoys a nap in the Masai Mara
Yes. My main concern from a photography perspective is to keep our group of photographers small so that everyone has good shooting angles all the time. Extra adult passengers in the Land Cruisers are not an issue if they are just along for the scenery. The price for a non-photographic partner (sharing room) is USD $3950.
Your full payment is due by 12 midnight Atlantic time on January 13, 2023. There are no refunds after January 13th, so I strongly advise that you purchase travel insurance at the time of your booking to ensure that you are able to get compensation in the event of last-minute health or family emergencies. Should something happen between payment time and your departure, I will endeavor to try to get some credit from the local suppliers towards a future trip but that may not be feasible after I pay for our local Kenya arrangements.
Yes. Besides providing you with compensation if you need to cancel your trip prior to departure, good travel insurance will help you if you have problems on your way to Nairobi or on the safari.
After we leave Nairobi, we usually have wireless connections at hotels but they may be weak at times. You should definitely not count on having Netflix for an evening movie and I would strongly advise that Creative Cloud users download software (Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and any key plug-in's) onto your computer so you are not reliant on Cloud-based processing.
Cell connections are available in most places but cell service cannot be guaranteed in remote areas. I always carry a Garmin Inreach satellite communication system and will provide contact information to all trip participants: that can be used as a point of contact in case somebody needs to get a message from home to you when we are out of cell range.
You can transfer your final payment directly to my bank account or pay by credit card (a 9.5% surcharge will apply for credit card payments).
Yes. This trip requires a minimum of three photographers to run.
Above: five cheetah brothers, the now famous 'Fast Five', saunter towards a shady tree after an unsuccessful hunt in the Masai Mara
Below: epic sunsets are common during the slightly unsettled weather during the May rainy season